Our lives are a mass of data: every purchase, every phone call, every Google search – they’re all collected, compiled and turned into big data.
What happens to all of that information?
The COVID-19 pandemic provides an illustration of how data science can turn huge quantities of numbers into information that can impact our lives and the lives of countless others. Those graphs in news stories that show how the spread of COVID-19 can be flattened? There’s probably a data scientist involved, and interpreting all kinds of information to help health officials with decisions.
“By dissecting the patterns that are characteristic of the spread of infection, machine learning and artificial intelligence can provide insights into the possible next changes in transmission that might occur and which responses are likely to prove most effective in controlling its spread,” said TRU Dean of Science Tom Dickinson.
“There are ways in which better decisions can be made by giving people the ability to determine patterns from massive amounts of data.”
Data science is a growing area that needs people who can big data and apply it for decision making and practical uses. Thompson Rivers University is responding to this need with a new, two-year Master of Science in Data Science degree that starts in fall. Applications are being accepted until May 1.
“It’s so new and has so much potential. The sky’s the limit,” said Roger Yu, TRU professor of math and statistics and director of the Centre for Optimization and Data Science.
“Data is an ingredient or resource for this information age. Everything relies on data.”
Data science has numerous uses, including some that affect our daily lives. Yu gave the example of health-care officials studying data about patients so they can reduce surgical wait lists or improve efficiencies with equipment like CT scans or X-rays. And, of course, tracking and making decisions around the pandemic, from monitoring the spread to allocating medical resources (masks, eye protection, medications or even hospital rooms).
Data scientists use data to develop big-picture strategies, visions and planning, as opposed to data technicians, who are more involved with information collection, day-to-day operations and calculations.
“Society in general values this kind of talent,” said Yu, giving the example of data scientists contributing to planning and policies around rebuilding the economy, and helping local businesses survive challenging times.
He has crunched the numbers, which show a rising demand for data scientists across the country. The fact that jobs in the field pay well means the statistics are highly in favour of graduates from this new program.
Students require a foundation in math, statistics and computer science, and will specialize within the program with close guidance from faculty members. The personalized nature of this master’s program means the intake will be small—about 10 students in the first year.
“It’s something that because it’s not at every university and people are looking at where they can do research in this area, this is one that will pop out. There aren’t many research-based data science degrees,” said Dickinson, noting there are shorter programs, but TRU opted for two years to give students deeper learning.
In creating the program, a market survey was done that proved the demand for data scientists will only be growing. The program itself includes key courses, but allows students to take on a thesis or project and turn it into applied problem solving.
While Dickinson already has a significant response from applicants, he’s encouraging anyone interested to submit their application by the May 1 deadline.